Still wearing his skates and his white Shattuck-St. Mary’s sweater, Nathan MacKinnon followed Christian Bragnalo out of the locker room and into the coach’s windowless office. A TV played NHL hockey in the corner as Bragnalo sat behind his desk, MacKinnon across from him.
Earlier that evening, the 15-year-old sophomore, who analysts were already projecting as a top NHL prospect, had given a half-hearted effort getting back on defense. The coach hadn’t appreciated it. So on the next power play, he benched MacKinnon.
“No one told him no, ever probably,” Bragnalo says.
MacKinnon pleaded to be back on the ice, but the coach stood firm. When MacKinnon threw his stick and gloves onto the upper part of the bench in anger, Bragnalo knelt next to him and talked. Your teammates are watching. What kind of coach would I be if I don’t hold you accountable?
MacKinnon was too upset to process Bragnalo’s message then, and after the game, he was still miffed. So coach and player headed to the office to clear the air.
“I’m probably going to be watching you on TV someday,” Bragnolo started, gesturing to the monitor on the wall. “And I know you can score goals. But you need to learn how to play 200 feet. That’s my job: to teach you.”
And he returned to the message he tried to deliver during the game. The best player on the team will be held to the same standard as every other player. This time, MacKinnon heard him.
“I’ve got you, coach,” he said.
This wasn’t the moment that turned MacKinnon into the player he’d become: one of the NHL’s top stars playing for the powerhouse Avalanche at age 25. He’s developed a better grasp on his emotions over the past decade, but some things haven’t changed much. He isn’t above barking at an official or underhanding a helmet at an opponent’s face in a fit of frustration, which he did last month to Arizona’s Conor Garland. That’s Nathan MacKinnon now. That was Nathan MacKinnon as a teenager.